Around a dozen men who accused British security forces of colluding in their transfer overseas are to get millions in compensation from the UK government. Some of the men, who are all British citizens or residents, were detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.
At least six of them alleged UK forces were complicit in their torture before they arrived at Guantanamo. The Commons will debate the payout when Justice Secretary Ken Clarke makes a statement later on Tuesday. The coalition government made clear in the summer that it wanted to avoid a massive court case which would also have put the British secret intelligence services under the spotlight. Prime Minister David Cameron offered to enter settlement talks with six men seeking damages, an offer that has now been accepted.
Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed and Martin Mubanga had led a High Court case against five government departments including MI5 and MI6. They had claimed that officials in London were complicit in their transfer to Guantanamo Bay and should have prevented it and their ill-treatment.
In May, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government could not rely on secret evidence to defend itself against the six cases, saying allegations of wrongdoing had to be heard in public. Since then, more than 60 government lawyers and officials have been sifting through some 500,000 documents at a secret location. The case was estimated to cost millions and could have lasted for at least another three years.
The BBC understands that both the Intelligence and Security Committee and the National Audit Office will be briefed in detail about the nature of the payments. But the settlement also paves the way for the government to launch an inquiry headed by former judge Sir Peter Gibson into the claims made against the intelligence and security agencies. Binyam Mohamed’s solicitor, Sapna Malik, said: “I can’t confirm any details about the settlement package. All I can say is that the claims have been settled and the terms are confidential.
“Our client was horrendously treated over a period of almost seven years, with a significant degree of collusion from the security services in the UK.” The UK security services have always denied any claims that they have used or condoned the use of torture. Last month, the head of MI6, Sir John Lawers, described torture as “illegal and abhorrent” and defended the service’s need for secrecy.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said of the payments: “It’s not very palatable but there is a price to be paid for lawlessness and torture in freedom’s name. There are torture victims who were entitled to expect protection from their country. “The government now accepts that torture is never justified and we were all let down – let’s learn all the lessons and move on.”
Mr Mohamed, from west London, was held in Pakistan in 2002 before US agencies moved him to Morocco, where he was tortured, before he was sent on to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, via Afghanistan. During court hearings, it emerged that a British intelligence officer visited him in detention in Pakistan and that his interrogators in Morroco asked him questions supplied by MI5. Around a dozen men who accused British security forces of colluding in their rendition overseas are to get millions in compensation from the UK government.